(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
Editor’s note: If you’re a remote worker or full-time freelancer, what are your options for getting out of the house and getting your stuff done in alternative, inspiring and free or low-cost spaces? How productive could you actually be in a mall, a public library or a bar?
At the end of July, Technical.ly reporter Paige Gross, intern Michaela Althouse and I (editor Julie Zeglen) each took to a nontraditional coworking space in the Philly area in honor of Team Dynamics Month. This is the third part of a three-part series; read the first part here and the second here.
Something like 43% of American workers are remote at least part of the time — and the amount of folks who work remotely as many as five days per week grew by 7% from 2012 to 2016, according to a New York Times report. That’s why I find myself typing alongside about a dozen such professionals in a Rittenhouse bar on a dreary Tuesday morning.
When I arrive to The Black Sheep Pub around 11 a.m., a staffer near the door immediately pegs me for a tech-y person — maybe it’s the backpack? — and points me upstairs.
I’m here to join The Lunch Club 215, a six-month-old social group dedicated exclusively to digital nomads. In addition to happy hours and, yes, group lunches, the club meets in a different spot every month for coworking. Today, we’re at Black Sheep thanks to Philly startup WEach Seats, which connects such nomads in need of affordable workspace with restaurants looking to fill unused tables via day passes or memberships.
As I enter the dimly lit second-floor space, a few minor concerns pop into my head: Will my fellow workers talk the whole time? Or at all? How’s the Wi-Fi? Will anyone order beer? (Is it cool if I order a beer?)
But it takes me approximately three minutes to feel extremely comfortable with the idea of working at a bar.
My first co-coworkers include an events manager, a menswear consultant and a graphic designer. Folks do chat whenever a new person joins us — a few joke about being impressed with themselves for leaving the house today — but there are long periods of calm quiet, save for the easy-listening radio in the background and a bubbling air conditioning unit stuck in the window to my right. Notably, no one is wearing earbuds.
I order a shepherd’s pie for lunch (it is a pub, after all) and settle in with my laptop and a free cup of coffee at the long table assembled from five two-tops.
The Lunch Club doesn’t always meet in bars. Sometimes it goes to true coworking spaces, such as WeWork or Industrious, or less traditional offices such as the Free Library of Philadelphia. A Slack group helps people in the group stay connected when they’re not convening, and serves as a sort of watering hole for both happy hour invites and commiserating over shared challenges.
Cofounders Liz Borchert and Sarah Skobeloff say their main objective is to build community among the “nontypical-9-to-5ers” — freelancers, solopreneurs, remote employees of larger companies.
“We need this social relief,” says Borchert, a freelance graphic designer. Skobeloff, a digital marketer, calls it “friendworking,” which I love.
“We focus so much of our social energy on nights and weekends,” Borchert says, “but we can also have full, healthy experiences during the work day when you’re working on something you’re passionate about.”
It’s also good for business connections: Borchert recently outsourced some work to another designer in the Lunch Club, and Skobeloff has asked others for help with things like Facebook Ads Manager.
A one-day partnership with WEach Seats provides the pub setting on this particular day. The Black Sheep is one of four Philly restaurants currently using WEach Seats, and a forthcoming app will list the need-to-know details of each — its policy on ordering food, where you can find private space for a call, what the Wi-Fi password is, cofounder Matthew Weaver said.
The model has shifted a bit since its 2018 launch: Before, WEach Seats only partnered with restaurants that weren’t open during the day, but found that users wanted to be able to order food while they worked. Now, it connects with restaurants that are open as usual but happen to have more private areas, such as Black Sheep’s second-floor space.
As Weaver sees it, his company, a 2019 PSL Accelerator participant, is solving the very practical problem of remote workers wanting to work cheaply in a reliable space with small-but-meaningful perks, like free coffee. The social benefit is just one element of all that.
By 2:30, it’s a full 15 remote folks working remotely together, and there’s some light chatter — still conducive to productivity, though.
One of the seated clusters is actually three coworkers of a fully remote marketing agency. Dylan Youngs, Mike Isaac and Haley Bank each live in Philadelphia, but the rest of the team is distributed in places such as Long Island, Albany and Florida.
Youngs says the company stays in touch with a mix of Slack, email, Uberconference and Zoom. This is the first time the three of them are all working together, though the larger Philly-area team does meet occasionally in a Media coworking space.
Youngs generally likes working from home: “When I tell people I work remotely, I get a lot of, ‘That’s amazing,’ or ‘I could never do that,'” he says. He likes it especially because he can travel while working, but admits it can get lonely, too, partly because he lives alone. On those days, Lunch Club meetups are “a good way to feel like a human again.”
Steve Cassano, the men’s fashion consultant, works for himself, which means he also works largely from his Old City home or coffee shops. He found the Lunch Club on Instagram and enjoys coming to the meetups because they’re free or cheap and socially oriented, which allows him to bounce ideas off of fellow hustlers.
The biggest draw to the remote work life is freedom: “We let our work apply to our lives,” he says wryly, “not our lives apply to our work.”
I need to leave to make a meeting with my own non-remote team at 3 p.m., and alas, I hear chatter about happy hour. They won’t need to go far.
- The bar-coworking vibe is extremely chill, but productive. I could totally do this remote thing if I were bouncing around to different spots every day while surrounding myself with heads-down folks in adjacent industries.
- “Friendworking” as a concept
- Free coffee!
- Temptation of day drinking
- I definitely shouldn’t have spent $18 on lunch, but the outside-the-norm workspace made me feel like treating myself. Cue: packed lunches for the rest of the week.
- I didn’t need to ask about private space, but it might be annoying to have to move to make a call.
Overall rating: 5/5
P.S. Some bonus tips for working remotely, courtesy of Lunch Club members:
- Leave the house at least once per day, even if just for the gym, groceries or happy hour. No exceptions.
- Go to regular events in your field, such as Creative Mornings.
- Take regular walks or practice yoga.
- Set up meetings in different spots around the city.
- And finally: Don’t watch TV. Just don’t.
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